March 11, 2020 / 7:36 PM / 5 months ago

U.S. senator threatens tech companies, says don't block his child abuse bill

    By Nandita Bose
    WASHINGTON, March 11 (Reuters) - Senator Lindsey Graham
criticized tech companies on Wednesday for opposing a bipartisan
bill aimed at curbing child sexual abuse material online and
said he would consider a more punitive step if he is unable to
get the legislation passed.
    Graham, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, spoke at
a hearing held to discuss the EARN It Act - a bill technology
companies and civil liberties groups said was an attack on
strong encryption critical to billions of people.
    The Republican senator said he does not "buy anything" said
by tech companies about ending child sexual abuse, in response
to testimony from Elizabeth Banker, deputy general counsel at
tech trade group the Internet Association, which counts
companies like Facebook Inc        and Alphabet Inc's Google
          among its members.
    "All they care about is not getting sued," he said,
referring to tech companies.
    Technology companies have opposed the bill, which would end
an immunity they have under federal law called Section 230 that
protects platforms like Facebook, Google and Inc
          from being sued over content posted by users. 
    Specifically, the companies would lose their immunity if
they fail to follow "best practices" for detecting abusive
images. Those practices would be determined by a new government
commission led by Attorney General William Barr. Barr is a known
foe of end-to-end encryption, a technology that prevents tech
companies, police and hackers from reading messages unless they
have access to the devices that sent or received them. 
    The industry fears one of the best practices would include
weakening encryption.
    Graham told reporters that if the bill fails to pass, he
would consider legislation that strips Section 230 protections
if internet companies fail to combat abusive material online -
removing their option to follow best practices.
    "Probably we will wind up, if we can't get this passed, is
just carve out a Section 230 child sexual abuse (bill) and good
luck in court," he said. "Every other business is prone to being
sued if they don't child-proof their business."
    Graham and Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat who is the
bill's lead co-sponsor, said they will not support any effort by
law enforcement to use the bill as a backdoor means of defeating
   "This is not a backdoor encryption bill," Graham said during
the hearing. "If the commission decides to address encryption,
there are significant safeguards - including congressional
approval - to ensure the approach is reasonable and considers
the impact of data security and privacy."    

 (Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington
Editing by Matthew Lewis)
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